Changing Directions

by Howard Faxon

Copyright© 2014 by Howard Faxon

: Imagine that you're a mechanical genius--a Steinmetz, a Henry Ford, a Thomas Edison, born in the twentieth century. What direction do your creations take? How do your inventions shape the world?

Tags: Fiction   Superhero  

I guess you can call me an old fart. I remember watching the Beatles come off the plane for the first time from England--on TV, of course. I remember the Monkees and their laughable attempts at synchronizing their guitar strumming and lip-synching with the music that was playing ... I saw Pelee play soccer. I remember Look magazine's coverage of the first heart transplant. I cried when the first man stepped onto the moon.

I've got a great-grand-niece that's a pre-teen, for Christ's sake! She's easy to buy for on her birthday, though. I just get her a one hundred buck debit card for computer games and she's golden.

I spent a long time living in the mid-west, about fifty miles west of Chicago. It's a humid climate that grows corn and soybeans wonderfully, but I often dwelled on why I got fungus infections between my toes and in my armpits.

I took a nice, long vacation out east to visit my family. They'd moved to Tampa, Florida years ago to follow the jobs. I refused to put up with the foolishness our government has forced on us at the airports and I regarded driving long distances as an exercise in drudgery. Instead I took the bus. As long as your bowels hold up and you've got a strong stomach for what you'll smell, you're fine. I remember singing an acapella duet with a guy that knew some of Willie Nelson's songs. It can be a good time!

To tell the truth, I had become disaffected with my job. It no longer seemed as if I was providing anyone a benefit. I was looking for a way out. Taking that trip to the Florida coast was a trial run. I wanted to stretch out and see what was out there. I had enough money saved up to take my time and find a niche that I not only fit into but enjoyed as well.

It was just after the first of June when I showed up unannounced both my niece Tina and her daughter Terri latched onto me as if I were the only male left alive. I laughed and hugged the both of them until they squeaked. I was invited to sleep in their spare bedroom (junk room). I agreed, with the understanding that I'd work for my bunk. I bought groceries, cooked suppers, kept the place somewhat clean and babysat Terri for a few weeks, leaving Tina some evening time to herself.

I found the both of them pretty depressed one morning. Their neighbor, a Mr. Carl Charter had died in an auto wreck together with several of his business partners. He left no family and all the other owners of the business died in the same accident along side him. The next weekend the bank was going to auction off the assets of his marina, as well as the sales and maintenance operation to satisfy the insurance company. This quickly sparked my interest. I took a little side trip to the bank holding the auction in hopes of securing a list of the inventory that was to be disposed of, along with the terms of sale. It cost me fifty bucks slipped into a clerk's palm, but I got what I was after.

I spent half the night poring over the papers, trying to determine what I was looking at. I had to make copious use of the Internet to find out what things like a marine survey were. I was pretty bleary by morning but I had a pretty good feeling about where I was going that weekend. I talked Tina into coming along, which of course meant Terri was coming too. Oh, it was going to be a circus!

Between that morning and Saturday I feverishly converted funds and gathered my finances. If my plans failed to bear fruit then I would be nearly destitute. However, I had a secret weapon. The specifics and terms of the sale was a legal document, of which I had a fair copy. No where on that document was mentioned the words 'minimum acceptable bid' or 'reserve bid'. Also, a hurricane was coming up the coast tossing rainstorms, trees and pieces of houses about with abandon. You'd think that people living in a place like that would build for the worst, wouldn't you? Gotta love foolish optimism and short memories.

That Saturday the expressways heading north were jammed with traffic as people tried to flee the approaching storm. I'd managed to get a good night's sleep so I was ready. I was driving an old, heavy land shark of a Pontiac that I'd picked up. Even it was rocking in the fierce wind gusts. Nevertheless we made it to the harbor, then to the yard before the posted time of the auction's opening bell. There were four other groups standing in the shelter of a building, waiting for the auction to begin. We needed one more bidder to force them to open the proceedings We needed six. "Quick, Tina-- go get a bidding number at that little shack."

"Damned it, Sid, I can't afford anything here! I'm just hanging around because I like auctions and you asked me to come."

"I don't care if you don't even bid on a socket wrench or a piece of bubble gum--we just need six registered bidding parties to keep them from closing the auction due to a lack of attendance. Go, girl, go!"

While she was busy I talked to the other bidders. We arranged to not step on each other's feet because I mentioned that we might see some record LOW bids. I shook the document I had in front of the lot of them. "No minimum bids and no reserves are mentioned anywhere in this thing. A dollar bid is a legal bid. Understand? Just keep it to fair bids." I saw several wolfish smiles. Despite what I said, we all knew that a dollar bid could be rejected by the court. There was a law on the books demanding a "good faith" bid or effort in contract law.

Tina got her number just in time. The sheriff's deputy read off his bit and the auction was on!

The big stuff went first. I was right--no realistic bid was refused. The bank's representative looked like he was alternately ready to faint and about to blow a blood vessel, but the deputy didn't let him interfere with the sale.

I bid one hundred dollars on a ninety-two foot two-masted schooner and won it. Positively amazing. Finally they got around to the 'smaller' vessels--under 70 feet long. I'd spotted three steel-hulled ships that I'd salivated over when reading over the surveys. One was still in dry-dock, as one of the owners had earmarked it for his own purchase. A lot of TLC had gone into it including a full engine room refit. Its survey was three years old. I figured that it was massively under-valued. All three had surveyor's values from six to nine hundred thousand. The ships had undergone complete refits over the past five years. I bid one hundred bucks for each of 'em. Since there were two bidders still there, he had to accept the bid. Tina didn't dare bid against me, as she might win!

Finally, the auctioneer sat on a folding chair with his elbows on his knees and looked at me. He shook his head. "What a fucking mess. What'll you give me for everything but the building and property? By law they have to be sold in a different class of auction."

"I scratched my head, then looked over at the banker. "You guys hold the lien on the property?" He nodded. "Will you give me four months occupancy with utilities? In return, after the weather clears I'll sign over the day sailers and some nice, pricey installation kits to you so you can hold a mixed silent/bidding auction at a dinner. I know that your charter forces you to spend so much a year in community relations. The rotary makes money this way. That should put you well over the top despite this fiasco." He started to smile, then dashed off to find a telephone.

When he got back, he gave me a counter-offer. "Six months, we pay you two thousand a month and you prep everything for the auction."

I said, "Sold!", then turned around and said to the frustrated auctioneer, "I bid one thousand dollars for all the assets on this property except the building."

"Goin' once! Goin' twice! Sold to the lucky son-of-a-bitch in a John Deer cap!" As I was writing out my check I asked the auctioneer, "You run any other marine auctions? I've got a ninety-two foot sailboat and two sixty-five foot steel hulled trawlers with valid surveys, and one hell of a lot of mechanicals in the warehouse. Have you LOOKED to see what's back there? It'll make you sick!"

He sighed. "Yeah, I know. This was shaping up to be a sixty million dollar auction before this storm blew up." He ripped off a piece of lined paper and scribbled on it. "It's my office number. I plan on holding an after-cyclone-season auction once the most of the hurricanes die out for the year. I figure four, five months from now. Give me a holler and we'll do business." He shook my hand again then turned to gather his team, pack up and quickly leave. The storm seemed to be gaining in intensity. The rain was lashing down in sheets while panels of corrugated roofing material were spinning down the street.

The bank had gotten their lawyer on-site and he'd gotten an ear-full of what we agreed to. We wandered through the back-lot despite the winds and downpour and wrote down the hull numbers of every thing we'd consider to be a day-sailer. If it had a cabin, a dumper and a galley it was out of that class. Since I had so many 28 and 22 foot single-masted sloops with v-bunks I threw them in. That was eight hulls, right there. We counted three hulls at 18 feet and six hulls at 12 feet.

I needed to change my residence address to the marina 'cause I was going to be spending all my time there. I had a butt-load of hulls to paint, upgrades to perform and stores to check. I got the building keys and the banking team left while the roads were still somewhat navigable.

I went looking through the offices with Tina and Terri right behind me. I was looking for a computer that had the warehouse inventory on it. I figured that once I knew what was there, I could read up on the products to raise the value of my new ships. Whatever was overflow I'd use to upgrade the hulls going to the bank. Then packages could be put together for the bank's silent auction. Bulk stores I'd try to sell to other similar businesses in the harbor, at a price better than wholesale. The rest would go into a balls-to-the-wall garage sale of marine supplies. When it comes to anything for a boat, owners would climb out of the woodwork for a good deal. The stuff's expensive! Even chromed or zinc electroplated copper tubing cost a fortune, and it was used everywhere. If I advertised that I had marine zincs for sale cheap it would look like a feeding frenzy out there. Oh, I had grandiose plans.

I found the office. A slim, college-age young lady was sitting behind the desk, looking through a photo album. I didn't bother her. I backed out quietly, figuring that she had some sort of history with the place. I went out to the show-room to see what advertising was lying around, and what had pride-of-place. There was a computerized display for Furuno radars, chart plotters, auto-pilots, radio-telephones and electronic charts. I went through the demo, writing down model numbers. The displays impressed me, as did the quality of information supplied by their electronic charts. It reminded me of when I learned to fly IFR--instrument only--and got to fly right seat in a Citation X business jet.

I was at the limit of what I knew and what I could find out without help. I went back to the office to find the young lady just sitting there, paying more attention to her memories than her environment. I couldn't blame her--the environment was pretty shabby, as busy offices tend to get over the years. The clutter and grime just builds up slowly enough so that nobody notices, or in this case, noticed. Lisa saw me come into the office and stood with her arms crossed, as if defending her territory. "I'm afraid we're closed."

I put up my hands in an attempt to ease the situation. "Sorry if I intruded on you, miss. I'm Sid. I'm afraid that I bought the contents of the business at the auction. I could really use some help in finding out what's here and I wouldn't be shy about paying for the help, either."

Lisa was at wit's end. Her uncle had provided her a place to live and a nurturing environment. All that was gone now, and the cold reality of the situation had finally sunk in. Nevertheless, the insurance promised to pay out several million dollars. It was just a matter of time. Working with this guy would give her just the closeness to the business that she was missing. She desperately wanted some closure, to feel like she had done her part to close everything down properly by someone in the family--a final blessing if you will.

"I can do that." She turned to the desk to turn on the computer and printer. Within five minutes a stack of 3-hole punched paper sat in the printer's hopper listing the full inventory with both cost and retail figures for each item. She dropped the report into a binder and handed it to him with a smile. I said, "You're an efficient secretary if nothing else. You work here?"

She nodded. "I'm Lisa Charter, uncle Carl's niece." She looked around the place wistfully. "I've spent over ten years growing up with this business."

I realized that I had a gold mine in this girl if I could convince her to stay on. I told her what ships I'd kept. "I plan on selling all but the ship in dry-dock right now. It still needs a bit of work but I'm handy like that, despite my age. I plan to sell the other ships to provide the funds I'll need to live aboard the Walkabout, keep her maintained, provisioned and insured."

Lisa brightened up, smiling. "You're keeping the Walkabout? She's a wonderful ship! My uncle spent a fortune in custom woodwork on her! I know every inch of her, inside and out. I should know her--I've been helping to refit her for the last three years!"

That convince me. "That's it. I've got to have you. You know ships and I don't. I arranged with the bank for possession of this place for six months, during which time my responsibility is to recondition all the hulls short of thirty feet long to be sold at a dinner/auction for the bank. They're paying me two grand a month. I'll split that with you if you stay on to help me. We can focus on the Walkabout to get her ready for her re-launch, then live aboard her while at dock here. I saw the pumps for a fuel bunker on the property. Is it filled?"

"Nearly. We took delivery of, umm," she looked over the desk and found a receipt. "fifty six hundred gallons of diesel less than a month ago."

"Wonderful. We can sell the ships with full tanks, and fill up the Walkabout as well. The bank owns the place and realizes that I'll be working here, so the power bill is their responsibility and I doubt that they'll cut me off that way. They know that I'm doing them a pretty big favor."

I grinned at her. "Well, what do you say? Want to shack up with a dirty old man?" Tina objected. "Uncle Sid! You're not a dirty old man! A pervert, maybe, but not a dirty old man." Terri just giggled. I picked her up and gave her a squeeze. "Been exploring?"

"Yup. There's LOTSA stuff to see here! All the boats are cool, too. Are we staying here now?"

I glanced over at her mother who seemed startled at the question. "Your mom will have to decide that, Terri. A lot is happening in a short period of time. We'll have to see how it all shakes out. Okay?"

Tina asked, "Live-aboard? You're going to live on a ship?" I nodded, and so did Lisa who grinned and nodded in agreement. "Sure, why not? It's a floating temperature-controlled apartment with multiple bedrooms. It's got showers, a kitchen, a living room with a TV and great views. Besides, if you don't like your neighbors, you can just flip 'em the finger, cast off and move!"

I could see her evaluating the situation. She walked over to Lisa to introduce herself. I watched them feel each other out for a bit, then took Terri by the hand to take a leisurely walk through the warehouse with the inventory book in hand. The numbers at the bottom of the report astounded me. Wholesale, I had over three million in inventory. Retail? Well over double that. I could probably realize over a few million from the sale of three of the four larger ships I'd just acquired once I'd pumped up their value with high-end electronics and appliances. I found a smile on my face. I'd just retired. I hadn't told anyone yet and it would be a working retirement, but, by God, no more clueless bosses or middle management for me!

The sound of the wind howling around the building gave me pause. All this could come crumbling around my ears if this damned storm hit us wrong. I headed up to the front of the shop where Lisa and Tina were talking. "Ladies, the storm seems to be getting stronger. Is there a weather plotter hooked up in here to show the customers? I'd like to see what's going on."

Lisa headed out to the customer space and flipped on a display. She tapped a few controls and rather than recorded images we got a live weather feed from a radar head mounted on the roof. Another few taps and we were seeing a satellite view in nearly real-time. She zoomed in and overlaid a local chart over the satellite image. A grease pencil made a dot on the screen. five minutes later another dot showed the storm track to be following up the coast maybe eight miles out to sea. We'd get wind, rain and storm surge, but nothing that should rip the roof off the building. After all, it had gone through things like this before.

Lisa and I went out to check the mooring lines on the ships and make sure all the bumpers were out. When we returned to the building we looked like drowned rats. Lisa looked at me and grinned. "Wait right here." She strode off deep into the warehouse to return with her arms full of plastic-wrapped packages. She dropped them on a counter and left me to sort through the pile. "Here. I've got sweat shirts, pants and towels. There's shoes around here somewhere but I can't lay my hands on them." We went off to bathrooms to dry off and change. I wrapped my wet clothes in my towel and went barefoot.

I went back out to the display room, where Tina was looking at the electronics displays and Terri was paging through a yachting magazine. I think she was getting into the whole boating thing, fast. She was eleven years old and had all the energy and enthusiasm of that age.

By four o'clock that evening the storm was peaking and we weren't going anywhere. The electricity had failed and the sky was dark. Lisa took a flashlight back into the warehouse to come back with blankets and jackets for all of us and deck shoes for herself and me. Lastly, she produced several packages of 'survival biscuits', which were like soft brownies. Mine were lightly lemon-flavored. I found them quite tasty though I could see how they would pall in a short time. We slept on couches that night. I couldn't complain--I was warm, dry and not sleeping on the hard floor. I'd paid for much worse accommodations by far.

By morning the storm had passed. Immediately after using the necessary we walked around the property looking for damage. Nothing struck us as out of place or missing. Lisa produced the keys to the four ships in my obsession and handed them to me. She gave me a grin. "Congratulations. You're now the proud owner of four holes in the water into which you pour money."

"Yar, yar yar. Laugh now, kid, but I'm selling three large vessels plus six smaller ones to pay for the upkeep of the prize of the lot." We explored the ships, looking for water seeps and such. Luckily, they'd all been secured before the storm with just such damage in mind. I was amazed at the roominess of the larger sailing vessel. The Beneteau sailboats were designed specifically for rough weather and took the storms like the troopers that they were. The Carver, Benteneau Swift Trawler, Island Packet and Grand Banks motor yachts were in fine shape. Of the steel hulled trawlers, the Sutton-DeFever was a bit scratched up from a few collisions with the dock but the Bruce Roberts TY620 was undamaged. My Cape Horn Traveller was safely under cover in dry dock, the lower hull having been taken down to the bare metal in preparation for re-priming and painting.

We patched up the Sutton and moved into her while working on the Cape Horn. It took over a month to get three coats of primer and two of anti-fouling paint on her with just the two of us. We had to keep shifting the mounts with a crane to prime and paint all the areas covered by the supports. Once she was painted we bolted on the zincs, reconnected the keel cooler, gave the steering gear one final check and re-floated her. I finally got introduced to our new home. Lisa lovingly described feature after feature of the ship as she gave me the grand tour while I recorded everything with a digital camera. I realized that I had quite a bit of learning ahead of me.

She was a beautiful ship with plenty of head space. There were strategically placed grab rails on the ceiling and upper walls throughout the vessel. She was well-lit without providing glare. The stools in front of the breakfast bar were on glides to keep them from tumbling across the floor in rough weather. A wide door connected the salon with the covered rear deck, increasing the common living space in good weather.

When we moved onto the Cape Horn I took the first guest cabin (marked 'VIP cabin' on the ship's plans. Gotta love that marketing.) while Tina and Terri took the second, leaving the master for Lisa. She vociferously argued and whined about it, but I knew in my heart of hearts that she was secretly pleased to have the master's accommodations.

Since my devious plan looked like it was coming to fruition I applied for a passport. I also got the ship insured as a live-aboard on the strength of a new inspection. We couldn't run off of the previous inspection as the drive train had undergone a complete refit.

I rabidly preferred a gas stove to an electric. After telling me all the ramifications of using LP gas aboard ship we made adjustments, sacrificed an outside locker for propane stores, installed electric fans, ran the lines and installed a very nice four-burner gas cook top with a broiler insert. After the first time we used it to grill meat an electric draft hood was installed that led up to a small stack that exited just behind and above the pilot house. We had to wipe down the smoke residue from the entire salon.

We over-stocked the ship from the warehouse, knowing that we'd never get a deal like this again. I made sure to concentrate on the more expensive stores to duplicate what we had on board, such as the navigation displays and radar heads as storage space was at a premium. I made sure to stock an electric frying pan, an electric turkey roaster and a crock pot in case we ran out of LP gas somewhere embarrassing. I could cook damned near anything with those three, as long as you didn't expect stir-fry.

I refilled the tool crib with new hand tools, bits, blades and power tools. I used part of the chart library storage for gasket material because it was the only place I could think of to keep that much area flat and protected. I convinced Lisa to let me convert most of the fixed interior lighting to 12Volt LEDs because they were more efficient, produced less heat and lasted damned near forever compared to light bulbs--even halogens. The halogens were fire hazards, too. We upgraded all the fire extinguishers to a larger size (those that weren't built in). I added spares of everything down to the control knobs for the wheel house equipment, spare breakers for the power distribution panel and replacement wiper blades for the pilot house windshields.

Then we got down to assessing the inventory with an eye towards packages that the bank would wish to see. We assembled a dozen pallets' worth of equipment, new in the boxes and shrink-wrapped them. Each one got an inventory printed and taped to the shrink wrap, including the retail value of what was enclosed. Then I started making a nuisance of myself, calling every marine vendor within twenty miles, offering our inventory at fifteen percent off of cost, but they had to pick it up. The product was still in factory sealed boxes so we were able to clear out some space in next to no time.

We needed that space to improvise a paint booth where we could bring those hulls indoors to paint them, protected from the wind, dust and weather. I didn't want to give the prospective owners any reason to claim shoddy workmanship.

I made sure that all the ships that I was going to sell under my own name were fully equipped with radar, electronic charts, navigation electronics and marine radios. I wanted them to be in 'drive it away' condition. All they would lack would be food in the lockers, fresh water in the tanks and their favorite socks. Every boat that had a storage locker got medical kits, emergency blankets, survival biscuits, a full complement of life preservers, fire extinguishers and an emergency locator beacon or EPIRB.

As each ship of mine came ready I took photos with the date/time indicator enabled and typed up a new inventory. I included a note stating that each ship would be sold with full fuel tanks enhanced by StaBil to protect the diesel if the vessels were to be put directly into storage. Each one got listed with a service with the understanding that it was a three month listing, only. After that they'd go to auction.

The 92 foot schooner sold for a million six hundred thousand. It must have been a good season because the little Carver and the 65 foot Bruce Roberts sold as well. All told I made a bit over two and a half million before taxes from the three of them. When it was time to prep for the auction I listed the warehouse contents with a reserve of fifty percent of cost. Very little didn't sell. I chivvied a marine repair shop into buying what was left over for his inventory. I asked him for a thousand bucks for the lot. He probably spent twenty cents on the dollar. My income tax that year was going to be brutal. However, I was sitting on just over eight million dollars in income. Not bad for a fourteen hundred dollar investment, eh?

Tina made a tough decision, but it was hers to make. She was going to stay put in Tampa for a stable environment for her kid. I couldn't quite repeat her logic, but I realized that she was willing to sacrifice a lot to raise Terri right. I let her know that a stateroom would always be available for the both of them, come hell or high water. She promised to make the Walkabout their favorite vacation destination. I threatened to put rabbit turds in her chocolate milkshakes if she went back on it. I dropped twenty grand in her bank account, the maximum that the fed would allow without the tax man slithering towards her.

Carl had put down Berber carpeting in the salon. That shit gets dirty if you look at it wrong so I ripped it up and covered all the free space with red Persian carpets. The lower hallway was protected by a braided runner. I bought a case of lemon oil and a case of MinWax. We had more damned woodwork than you could shake a stick at and it all required scheduled maintenance.

October rolled around and the bank's charity auction came up. I'd have been pissed if Lisa and I didn't get free tickets. The seventeen hulls and twelve packages on pallets brought in over a million bucks for the bank's charity. They split it up between the local food bank and an orphanage for a change, instead of sponsoring a local kiddie sports team. Good for them!

Christmas was coming, which meant we would be kicked out of our slip. "Hey, Lisa? We've got to move soon. Where are we going to moor this thing? Got any ideas?"

"Yup. Uncle Carl had a slip down in Naples."

"Big enough for this moose?"

"Yup. He took out a ten year lease with this ship in mind."

"Well, hell! Let's fuel up, throw the cat overboard and get moving!" I sold the car, cleared the last of what I wanted out of the store and called the bank to take posession. I bought a five hundred gallon fuel bladder, then had it delivered and strapped to the upper deck. I filled every diesel bunker we had. At over four bucks a gallon I wasn't about to leave any behind that I didn't have to. Then I had a thought. "Lisa? Do you have a captain's license?"

"It's about damned time you asked, you idiot. Yes, I do. I'm rated for one hundred tons, one hundred miles from shore. Isn't it a little late to be thinking about that?"


"At least you got us insured. I was surprised to see that bill come in. I thought I'd have to remind you to chew your food."

"Damned kid."

"Old fart."

Could you tell we were getting along better?

Our course measured about 130 miles and we took it easy. Leaving at ten one evening got us to Naples at about ten the next morning. She radioed ahead to reserve our slip with full facilities. They didn't want to live up to their end of the contract at first, but when she started spouting little contractual details like penalties they caved in. I told her, "glad I'm on your side." It was the first time I saw her smile in a while. That made me think. This girl was getting too serious. We'd have to do something about that.

First thing I did was file a change of address with the post office. Then I had the taxi driver give me a tour of the local car dealers and asked him for the skinny on who was an asshole and who wasn't. I ended up getting a boxy little white Kia five-door hatchback. We had a sat-phone installation onboard, but it was an Iridium, which didn't have real good coverage and definitely wasn't very cheap. The shop had let the contract lapse so it wasn't draining my pocketbook unnecessarily. Before we headed out I wanted to get a different system installed.

We were moored just a short walk from the Coast Guard offices. I strolled down and investigated what I'd need to do to get my owners certifications. It seems that I needed to have 360 days on board, underway. That meant not moored. They also specified that a day could be as short as four hours. Then I could take the tests. The books cost me a four digit fortune, but I bought them. I buckled down to read and take notes. After I learned the navigation and 'rules of the road' courses I took out a one year lease on a twenty-four foot motor launch, ostensibly to go fishing for five hours every day near dawn. Lisa thought that I'd blown a pressure relief valve until I clued her in on the Coast Guard licensing requirement. Then she applauded me. I finally got an attaboy out of her! Red letter day!

I was sure glad to get out on the water each morning. The standing on-shore breezes just packed up the algae and flotsam around the piers and along the rocks. The smell was--special. Getting out onto the clean sea each morning was a real treat.

I spent the later mornings studying for the Coast Guard tests, early afternoons cleaning the ship and learning her engineering systems, then the late afternoons reading the manuals for the various ship's equipment, tracking down runs and destinations with a copy of the ship's plans and educating myself in diesel engine repair. I'd learned MIG welding back in the day when it was called Heliarc. I took a month long evening class to get my touch back. Lisa wondered why I smelled like smoke for a while but didn't ask.

Next I found a course in maintaining a Cummins N14 diesel engine. It taught me a lot, including a list of spare lines, clips and filters that I should purchase which would keep us from being stranded from a load of crappy fuel. I learned what our fuel polisher was for too.

After going through the Coast Guard manuals on shipboard medical emergencies I made an appointment with an MD to get my shots up to snuff and talk over the chances about getting a physician's assisted medical kit, like they had on the stations in Australia. All the medications were numbered and a doctor would tell the rancher which medication to use by number, how much to use and how to use it. I went a little further and bought refrigerated antibiotic for pigs, along with syringes. It was dispensed using a chart relating kilograms of body weight to milligrams of drug dispensed. I practiced my stitching on beef kidneys and tomatoes. I made sure Lisa had her shots brought up to snuff as well.

I was right. The fucking government zinged me for nearly three million bucks in capital gains tax. The day I sent in my check, once the sun went down I got drunk and took out the windows of the closest police department with a wrist rocket and a pocket full of ball bearings. Got their fucking car windshields, too.

The next morning I threw my slingshot in the harbor when nobody was watching.

My first anniversary of living in Naples rolled around. I scheduled the tests for my captain's certificate. Despite not having slept the night before due to an unruly subconscious I passed my tests by a comfortable margin. I'd never break any records, but I was judged to be more than competent. Lisa had no reason to stick around and neither did I. I had my shiny new passport in one hand and my master's papers in the other. It was time to go travelling. I signed up for an Inmarsat Swift Broadband system that integrated with the ship's ISDN PBX.

We cruised the Florida panhandle, then continued west with an eye towards seeing the resorts of southern Mexico.

I was at wit's end wondering what to do with my time. Since I'd passed my exams and had stopped taking competency courses for the ship I was spinning about looking for the next goal to seek. That very concept spurred me into a new field of endeavor. My textbooks had harped on the importance of ship's defenses due to the rise in drug trafficking, human trafficking and general piracy. I resolved that I wasn't going to be a meek little lamb waiting for slaughter. I intended to be the badger in the wood pile.

I'd spent the last fourteen years minus the latest one working as a chemical engineer or a manager for said chemists, but I still remembered the basics. I'd once studied Shimizu on fireworks and competed in miniature soda-straw fireworks competitions. I also still remembered my old lab authorization codes for ordering hazardous chemicals. I had two inch pipe on board, aluminum stock, some titanium powder, a metal lathe and a drill press. It wasn't any big deal to make a hydrogen peroxide fueled rocket motor. I used sputtered titanium on the nozzles for strength and to reduce pitting. The steering package was a trial though. I used a three-tone acoustic aiming system. Two tones denoted the target. The third tone was a wave-off. In this configuration it couldn't turn around and fly up my asshole.

I fashioned a set of high-powered ultrasonic audio oscillators directed by parabolic reflectors. It caused a resonance in whatever it was focussed on. It made for one weird looking shotgun thing with a rifle scope in the middle, two big cups, one on each side of the stock and a contractor's extension cord out the back. It drew nearly eight hundred watts but it did the job out to roughly a half mile--a bit less. A third oscillator was attached to the hull as a primitive IFF.

I used RDX as an explosive and a mercuric azide reaction for a detonator (It detonates on formation). Using two inch I.D. chrome steel pipe two feet long, the rear half would propel the rocket over six thousand feet under water before it ran out of fuel using little turbine pumps. The nose cone provided target lock and vector control with servo-controlled fins. The first foot of pipe gave me seventy five cubic inches of payload space in which to pack in my explosive. A simple disc hooked up to the guidance circuitry would fire the initiator when the signal strength reached a calibrated level. It would then vaporize a quarter gram of mercury into a bath of sodium amide. It only took six weeks to design, debug and implement.

For the first practical trial I had Lisa aim the thing at a barely visible milk jug in the water which was painted florescent orange. As soon as she pulled the trigger I released the 'shark'. Eight seconds later water fountained into the air as the milk jug vaporized. I took our little fishing boat to the target locus with a big dip net. No sense wasting good fish, now was there? I figured that we had a winner. I kept the nose cones and detonator discs in a refrigerator on deck, though. I didn't want to bait the serpent in his own garden.

Over dinner that night, Lisa asked me, "Sid, just what the hell did we just shoot?" Step by step I explained the various sub-systems. When I finished she asked me, "How much does it cost to make one of your missiles?"

I thought for a bit. "Now that the development phase is over, about a hundred and twelve dollars each."

She screeched, "Jesus! You just inverted the battlefield weapon/target cost equation!"

"No I didn't!" I indignantly exclaimed. "Modern combat is not held under water. This technology is much too slow to work in aerial or land combat." I'm afraid that I didn't convince her. Hell, if she wanted an "air shark" she should just buy American Stingers or British Starstreaks. They'd already solved all the engineering issues.

We went right past Key West and its Jimmy Buffet tourist culture. Our first stop was the Cayman Islands.

Hell, talk about inhospitable. There WERE no publicly available tie-ups. Fuck 'em. We headed for Jamaica. We were offered a slip at the port of Falmouth, within spitting distance of a bloody huge Carnival Cruises party ship just to the south of us. If I were a nasty person with a wrist rocket I could have nailed their swimming pools with slugs of potassium permanganate, permanently staining the liners shit-brown-purple. Sort of a sideways Cleveland Steamer. Naah, I wasn't pissed or drunk enough.

I told Lisa about it the next morning. Her reaction was priceless. Her eyes opened to the size of tea saucers and she covered her mouth with one hand. "Jesus! I'm going to have to handcuff you to the engine the next time you get drunk."

My reply? "It won't help. I carved my dick into a handcuff key. eh eh eh eh."

She put her fingers into her ears and howled out, "I DON'T FUCKING WANT TO KNOW."

She looked at me kind of funny and locked herself in her cabin. Fuck. She was no fun. No sense of humor at all. I sat out on the stern deck with a bottle of Barbados rum and a glass of ice, wondering how to make more money. I remember sitting there drinking until the stars came out. Then it hit me with a dead-blow hammer. Fireworks! I used to have a pretty skilled hand at making micro-sparkies.

Then there were my sharks. I wondered if I could patent them, or better yet--license the little fuckers. I'd have to change the detonation sequence to activate on contact. No doubt two penny's worth of copper in front of a parabolic cup carved into the front of the explosive payload would give me an armor piercing round. I'd have to line the payload section with a ceramic cup and a carbon fiber cloth surround to keep it from bursting. If I could delay a segment of the charge's detonation and guide the secondary impulse up the barrel of the missile and into the first charge's blast hole the damage would be magnified incredibly. Hmmm. I could see more experiments in my future. Shaped charges are your friends. I fell asleep with a smile on my face.

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